The many skaters and boarders on the plaza outside the Brooklyn Museum the other night, where I arrived for the premiere of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' film The Latino List, reminded me once again of the revenue and cultural opportunity the Brooklyn lost by cancelling its graffiti survey show under municipal pressure.
When I shook hands with a portly museum director Arnold Lehman, I thought that both of us should be out there boarding and tagging, if only for our physical health. A real picture of health was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed veteran art critic Robert Pincus-Witten, whom I rushed to bear hug in the elevator, shouting "Pinky!" and tripping over de Kooning-meister John Elderfield in the process.
Inside the Brooklyn's lush film auditorium, black-dressed Latinas and their hunky escorts didn't let a long, dull bunch of corporate introductions deter the exuberant vibe of anticipation. I was seated next to ACLU director Anthony Romero, one of the stars of The Latino List, as he received more congratulatory pummeling than a boxing champion.
As for the corporatism, has it occurred to AT&T -- main sponsor of the exhibition, whose representative described the megacorporation as if it were a nuns's charity caring for the afflicted -- that eliminating all those pesky surcharges on its inflated bills might do more to help Latinos (and everyone else) than throwing a few bucks at the art world? The blogosphere has been full of allegations, lately, that AT&T has been funneling contributions to Tea Party queen Michelle Bachmann through a phony telecommunications PAC. She is virulently anti-immigrant-worker, of course.
The film will soon appear on HBO, and the hypocrisy continued with an ambivalent speech from the HBO drone, a woman who made the words "this is Timothy's fifth film with HBO" sound like a chore, and commented that HBO execs apparently "dreaded every time Tim's representative called with a new film proposal,” because of the edginess of Tim's "genius." One can only conclude that HBO has to write off some dough to make these necessary pictures.
It was left to Greenfield-Sanders himself, who has become a consummate toastmaster in the George Jessel mode, to smoothly steady the sails, spending half an hour asking different people from his team to rise and take a hand from the audience. But what of the film, you might ask? It is wonderful -- and wonderful because the faith in family, such a staple of the phony right-wing which detests Latinos while they mow their lawns and babysit their kids, shines through every testimonial.
From Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, laughing over watching Yankee games on TV in the projects of the Bronx with a father who died too young, to astronaut Luis Hernandez describing the multitude of stars in the fields he worshipped as a boy ("and then the sun came up and my brothers and I picked fruit all day") to golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez, who said, "My father was rich. He never had a dime. When he rode in at dusk on his horse and sat in his rocker, my brothers and sisters and I would take a pail of soap and water and wash his feet. He was the richest man I ever knew.” Only the coldest of hearts could cease to weep with joy and recognition.
These films, The Black List, The Latino List and the forthcoming The Gay List have marked Timothy Greenfield-Sanders as a humanitarian documentarian in the tradition of Robert Flaherty and Fred Wiseman. The fact that he can employ what W.E.B. DuBois described a century ago as "the talented tenth" to elicit such universal truths makes me wonder why the National Endowment for the Arts, and not corporate suits, is not funding these efforts and screening them in schools across the country. For the message of The Latino List should be: if you want to see a role model, look in the mirror.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).